Tumultuous Devotions: Female Entrapment and Empowerment in the Lais of Marie de France

S. Trent Dunkin, Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College


The notion of courtly love first appeared during the Middle Ages or Medieval period. Stories and songs of shining knights with superhuman qualities and beautiful unobtainable damsels filled the great halls and towns of England, France, and other European countries. Marie de France, born sometime during the mid-12th century, wrote many poems (or lais) of courtly love, featuring knights and their ladies. However, when reading the lais, one will often find that the themes of infidelity, dysfunction, and female entrapment appear quite frequently.

This paper discusses the above themes’ occurrence in the lais of Marie de France - specifically: Guigemar, Laüstic, and Yonec. Firstly, the role of gender will be explored – what specific role did the female play in the lais? While at first glance the male is seen as dominate to the female, this idea will be disputed as the female will gradually wield power over the male in a much more elaborate and dynamic way. Furthermore, while not much is known about Marie de France, this paper will examine the lais to highlight specific occurrences of adultery and unbalanced relations to argue that Marie de France herself was a victim of female entrapment.